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Social media is full of posts telling us how to have the perfect Christmas. Every other advert is forcing upon us ideas of perfect Christmas gifts. At this time of year it’s impossible not to be bombarded by the festive season and all its glittery glory – it’s everywhere we turn.

But what if Christmas brings misery, not joy? What if you are forced to observe this “happy” occasion from the isolation of your bed? Or, what if you cannot afford to buy your kids the perfect gift, or even provide a christmas dinner with all the trimmings?

For many people the festive season is not something to be celebrated. People living with chronic illness, bereavement or mental ill-health, can find this time of year extremely stressful and upsetting. And let’s not forget the many families living in poverty, the homeless, and those that live alone. Christmas can be a lonely time, and observing “happy families” and festivities on social media, can be painful.

Christmas themed blog posts are everywhere

Most bloggers have already started their “Christmas posts” with “how to” guides about everything from buying the perfect gift, to tips on how to cook the perfect Christmas dinner, or ways to cope with the additional exertion the festive season brings. And reading all these posts makes me feel pressured to do the same. But I made a promise to myself when I started my blog, that I would keep my posts authentic to who I am.

So, I just wanted to say that, I’m sorry but you won’t be getting an abundance of Christmas posts from me. I could go through the motions of writing them, but it would be false advice. It would not be true to who I am. Let me explain why.

Why the festive season is a tough time for me

As someone living with chronic illness and mental ill-health, Christmas is a challenging time for me. I am not well enough to visit family or friends. I’m not well enough to participate in the revelry. I’m not well enough to party. Funds are limited, so I can’t afford to spend loads on presents. My diet is very restricted, so no Christmas pudding or mince pies for me.

When you are severely affected by chronic illness and are housebound, it can often feel like you have been forgotten. The outside world continues on without you, and this only adds to your isolation. Christmas time can amplify this feeling of isolation and loneliness.

And winter can be a particular difficult time for those living with depression, and the cold weather can bring additional distress to those living with chronic illness and pain.

But also, as a child, our family did not celebrate Christmas for religious reasons. And as an adult I have never really seen the point of Christmas. To me it just seems to be a time of excess and waste. People spend too much and get in debt, and people consume way too much. I find the amount of waste quite staggering, especially when there are so many people going without in the world.

I’m not against Christmas, I don’t want to come across as a scrooge. But I think the message of love is lost amongst the mountains of gifts, excess, and the stress that the ridiculous amount of expectation brings.

So, I practice avoidance a lot during the festive season. I avoid listening to the radio because every other song is a Christmas one. I avoid social media, seeing everyone playing happy families and enjoying the “perfect” Christmas just reminds me of what I’m missing out on. I isolate myself more than normal just to survive the season, and I know I’m not alone in behaving this way.

I’m not saying this to get sympathy or attention. I’m extremely lucky to have loving family and friends – but I just don’t “do” Christmas.

Christmas can be such a distressing time

Christmas can also be a distressing time for  those who are mourning the loss of a loved one. They are bombarded by memories of happy times together, which can exaggerate their feelings of loss. This time of reflection can be particularly hard for those who are recently bereaved.  

And let’s not forget the stress Christmas brings into our lives, and not just for those who are chronically ill. There is so much pressure to spend extortionate amounts of money and to “perform” the perfect Christmas. Although I don’t really celebrate the festive season, I can see that the only thing that really matters is the time you spend with those you love, not the amount you spend, or the number of presents you give.

How to help a friend who may be struggling

“Sitting silently beside a friend who is hurting may be the best gift you can give”

If you are a friend or family member of someone who you think may be struggling to cope with the additional stress that the festive season brings, what can you do to help?

Most importantly, just be there for them. Let them know they are not alone and have not been forgotten. Ask them how you can help ease their stress. Are there any errands you could run? or maybe you could help wrap presents and write cards.

And, for your loved ones living with chronic ill-health – they may need a little extra love and understanding at this time of year. Please check up on them. They may be overwhelmed and not want a visit, but a text or phone call letting them know you are thinking about them could make their day.. They may “hide” from the world to avoid the pain of Christmas, but please don’t forget them.

Instead of buying expensive gifts, why not gift your time and company?

Your time and company can mean so much more than expensive gifts, especially to someone living with chronic ill-health. There are many ways you show your love and make a real difference in a loved ones life. Here are a few ideas;

  • Offer to take them shopping or shop for them
  • Offer to visit them and cook a meal
  • Run a few errands to ease their stress
  • Ask if there are any jobs you can do around the house
  • Offer to drive them to see family
  • Offer to drive them to doctors appointment
  • Walk their dog
  • Babysit their kids to give them a break
  • Treat them to a pamper day at home
  • Help them wrap presents and write cards

How to help others in your community

Christmas is a time of giving, but it’s also an opportunity to help others, not just friends and family, but also the community you live in.

The amount of waste over Christmas upsets me, when there are so many people living in poverty. So I counteract this by donating to a local homeless charity. But there are many ways you can make a difference in your community:

  • Rather than buying one more present to add to the mounting pile, why not donate some toys to a local children’s charity?
  • Instead of spending £100s on food, most of which you won’t get round to eating, why not donate some to a food bank, or a homeless charity?
  • Or why not donate your time? There are many ways you can volunteer in your local community, and I can promise you the rewards far outweigh the time you sacrifice.
  • If you find yourself with unwanted gifts that you know you will never use, rather than leave them festering in a cupboard, why not donate them to a local charity shop?
  • Do your kids no longer play with their “old” toys because they were given so many shiny new ones as Christmas presents? If they are still in good condition your charity shop would love to receive them. The same goes for unwanted clothes.
  • And please don’t forget about your elderly neighbours who live alone. A simple card could make their day, or a visit to see if they are ok or need anything. The cold weather adds another dimension of isolation and your presence could mean the world.

You are not alone, even if it feels like you are

If you are someone reading this nodding along, fearing the stress that Christmas brings, please know you are not alone. Do whatever you need to do to survive the season. Reach out and ask for help if you feel able, or hibernate for a couple of months if that’s what you need to do.

Please don’t feel pressured to conform to stereotypes at Christmas. Please don’t feel you have to compete with others. Please remember the “perfect” images you see on social media are just edited highlights of someone’s life, and no one’s life is perfect. Try to take your own path, celebrate Christmas within your means, and most importantly, try to enjoy this time. Take care x

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